During my novel planning, the first thing I really focused on was Character Sketching. Which actually means the first thing I focused on were Character Names.
Naming characters is probably the most enjoyable and most aggravating part of novel planning. For some reason, it seems that a character’s personality hinges on the perfect name. People can spend hours, weeks searching for the perfect name. Unfortunately this driven pursuit can often lead to silly, overly descriptive naming schemes.
Nothing makes me close a book faster than a stupid character name. It’s all subjective, but I find it a struggle to read past the first chapter of anything if I can’t take the main character seriously.
I’ve noticed that Paranormal Romance genre seems to have a lot bad judgment calls. Female main characters always seem to have some ultra feminine name. Buffy called, she says it’s not the 90s.
No matter how well-written a book is, if your main character’s name can’t be pronounced immediately or is a hackneyed nickname, you alienate readers – usually because they can’t get past the synopsis without snickering.
I’ve noticed this occurring a lot in the Appellation Station of the NaNoWriMo forums. There are so many cutesy, on-the-nose character names that I’m surprised my server hasn’t clogged from all the saccharine.
Fantasy genre names usually walk that line between the fantastical (like Tolkien) or seldom heard everyday names (like Martin). Since my main setting was inspired by Ireland, I ended focusing on Celtic or Gaelic names for my characters. Which was fantastic because I could use either online Name Generators, one of the many Celtic Name lists online, or local Celtic mythology as a naming source.
Using mythologically based names meant I had to heed my own warnings about pronunciation and on-the-nose name choosing. I hope I listened to my advice, but I suppose I won’t know for sure until someone else hits me over the head.
The two main resources that I ended up using were:
I also ended up using the Name Generator from Scrivener that was part of the free trial version supplied to NaNoWriMo. This was really handy when I actually started writing because I could stay in my writing program and not be lured to distraction by the internet.
With all these resources to provide names, I was able to pick out three or four names and assess how they would work for a character. I know some writers are able just to randomly choose a name and go with it – I can’t. My boyfriend uses the word ‘mouth feel’ to describe how certain beers are tasted. It’s apparently a well-known culinary term, but it’s something I’ve only come across recently. Mouth feel is generally the way something sits in your mouth, the texture, taste and sensation it provides.
I find using a ‘mouth feel’ also works for character names. I realize that Fantasy (and Science Fiction) genres often have character names that are purposefully strange as an immediate way of conveying the otherworldliness of the setting. But if the name sounds wrong, if it throws you off to say, it isn’t a name you should use. If you can’t immediately pronounce it, you can’t use it. If you feel stupid saying it out loud, you shouldn’t use it.